By Dr. S.Chandrasekharan
It does not need a rocket scientist to assess that a working and a sincere alliance between the two major parties- the Nepali Congress and the UML is a must for the promulgation of a new constitution and for ensuring suitable atmosphere for constitution writing. The primary task of the government is to get the new draft ready and get it promulgated withing one year as was promised.
Call it a marriage of compulsion or convenience-in the present situation, the parties will have to get on with each other to see the constitution through. This is the mandate they got from the people who chose them in the hope that they will deliver the goods. Instead, they are seen to be quarreling over petty issues as to who should finally approve the new constitution or whether the incumbent President should continue or not.
The blame lies squarely with the new leader of the Nepali Congress Sushil Koirala who is seen to be very indecisive. When he entered into a seven point agreement with the UML, he did agree to hand over the portfolio of Home to the UML. It should not have mattered as to who is nominated from the UML for that post.
But soon Koirala backtracked on the advice of some of his leaders and it took him some time to meekly accept later Bom Dev Gautam of UML as Deputy Prime Minister with Home Portfolio. It took two weeks of intense wrangling before both parties could agree on the cabinet expansion on Feb 25, 2014.
It is learnt that Sushil Koirala promised in his personal meeting with Sher Bahadur Deuba that the latter would get four slots for his group. Later he reneged and offered only two seats. He had to eat his words and provide four berths for the Deuba group in the expanded cabinet.
Historically, except during the periods of agitation ( Jana Andolan I and II) the two sides the UML and the NepaliCongress have seen each other as competing against one another. They perhaps occupy the same political space and their competition is understandable. But what is surprising is that their mutual suspicion and distrust have continued when there is an urgent need for both to get on well and take the initiative to get the new constitution within the stipulated period.
Some of the problems we see are
* The Parliament even a month after its convening is yet to have an agenda and the members therefore are sitting idle doing nothing.
* There is no common minimum programme (CMP) for governance as yet for taking important decisions on governance. There has been no official announcement of the government’s policy and programmes.
* The two major parties are bogged down on the trivial issue of who should authenticate the bills relating to the new constitution, whether it should be the President or the chairman of the interim constitutional assembly. Normally the practice in other countries would be for the assembly chairperson to sign the bills and for the Head of State to formally approve it.
* Because of intense lobbying of vested interests, the balance of 26 seats to the assembly is yet to be filled up by the Government.
* While the two major parties showed enthusiasm in conducting the polls for local council elections, there appears to be some hesitation now to go ahead with it in view of objections by some parties. Local elections have not been held for the last sixteen years and no one seems to be agitated over it!
* There appears to be a temporary truce in the continuation of the President and the Vice President till the promulgation of a new constitution. The hope is that the new constitution will be in place in time though almost all leaders privately have expressed doubts about getting the constitution within one year.
Given the “balance of power” in the parliament and outside, the Nepali Congress has no alternative but to work closely with the UML. For this Koirala has to take a personal initiative and not listen to some of his advisers who seem to be keen to keep UML out as far as possible!
What is needed is for the Nepali Congress Government to put up a strong and United Front. In course of time he should take the Madhesi groups on board who at the moment are sulking.
A weak government is not in the interest of good governance. It was surprising to hear that Koirala was given a “lecture” on his priorities from the President!
The President is said to have given a “seven point” directive to Koirala in one of his meetings. The points made were
1. Work towards promulgating the constitution within one year.
2. Concentrate on law and order ensuring justice to the common people.
3. Run the government with a consensus by taking all political forces into confidence.
4. Focus on the transitional justice by completing the remaining work related to the peace process.
5. Expediting vital appointments in the judiciary and other constitutional bodies.
6. Control corruption and irregularities.
7. Ensure mutual respect and coordination among state organs and abide by the constitutional principles.
The issue is- Should the President who is the constitutional head give such specific directives to the government? Some of the leaders in the ruling party have privately expressed their discomfort over such directives.